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Belize Marine Conservation Expedition

Earn your PADI Open Water and volunteer to conserve the Belize Barrier Reef.

Program Code: BZAC0915E

Program Information

Travel to one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world, the Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the second-largest reef system in the world. Here, you’ll join our base at the top location for diving in Belize, the island of Ambergris Caye. We’ll help you earn your PADI Open Water before you join our coral reef and other marine conservation volunteer initiatives.

United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals

 
Remote-Working Friendly
 
Reliable WIFI
 
Part-Time Options

Overview

Join our team on Belize’s famous island of Ambergris Caye. This island is the closest you can get to the Belize Barrier Reef and Belize’s Great Blue Hole without heading out on a boat.

Here, we’ll work with you to complete your PADI Open Water or Advanced Open Water before heading out onto the reef to carry out research. Like many reefs around the world, the Belize Barrier Reef is impacted by coral bleaching, a phenomenon caused by the ocean heating as a result of the climate crisis.

Fortunately, Belize is somewhat of a marine conservation leader, being the first country to ban bottom trawling, a harmful commercial fishing practice, as well as all offshore oil exploration and drilling. You’ll be helping to empower these pioneering local agencies by collecting data on the biodiversity of reef species. While you’re underwater you might stand a chance of catching a glimpse of rare, endangered species such as hawksbill sea turtles and manatees.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Earn your PADI Open Water or Advanced Open Water. 

  • Contribute to the conservation of the second-largest coral reef system in the world. 

  • Gain hands-on experience in marine biology and marine conservation. 

  • Go for a recreational dive in Belize’s famous Great Blue Hole. 

  • In your free time, visit sacred Mayan cenotes, cave systems and temples surrounded by rainforests and waterfalls.

Program Details

Further details

To get the best out of your experience we recommend that you complete any training that you can do off-location before your arrival on base. Once you arrive in Ambergris Caye, you’ll then be able to breeze through the training that can only be completed on-location. You won’t be able to start contributing to any coral reef research until you’ve mastered the necessary skills.

Please also keep in mind that while we aim to dive as much as possible, weather in the Caribbean can be volatile, which means that sometimes scheduled dives can be cancelled. Fortunately, when it comes to marine conservation, there’s actually a lot that can be done on-land to make a positive impact and you’ll be joining these activities when dives aren’t possible.
 
Flexibility
Change your location and dates free of charge.
 
Payment Plans
Flexible payment plans available.
 
Cancellation Waiver
Cancel anytime and receive a full refund minus your deposit.

Select a Start Date

  • 2021
  • 2022

Select a Duration

Select a start date first.

Life On Base

Our Belize base is located on the country’s largest island, Ambergris Caye, known for its proximity to the Belize Barrier Reef with its countless dive sites and spots to snorkel. Our accommodation is just a short walk from the beach and the island’s only town of San Pedro.

A typical day may involve training, diving and research. Participants should also expect to carry out diving gear maintenance or organisation such as refilling oxygen tanks and conducting safety tests. Days are rounded off with evening debriefs, followed by dinner and time to relax. In between your shifts on the project, you’ll have plenty of time to lounge on the beach, taking in Caribbean sunrises and sunsets and swapping stories with staff members and your fellow participants.

Base Tour

 

COVID-19 Safety

Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place. Learn more.

Covid-19 Response

Health and Hygiene

For over 20 years, GVI has prioritised the health and safety of our staff, participants, partners and local community members. In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, GVI has created the GVI health and hygiene team to put in place new standards of cleanliness, norms and behaviours that meet or exceed international recommendations to ensure the ongoing safety of GVI’s participants, staff and communities around the world. Internationally recommended practices, such as advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the governments Australia, UK and US, continue to be monitored and the standards are likely to change if and when international advice changes.


The work GVI is contributing to across the globe remains important and the following measures allow our participants to continue to join GVI’s programs and continue impacting positively on their world and the communities we work with. The following changes to our existing protocols have been made by the GVI health and hygiene team to strengthen our health and hygiene protocols and ensure that international standard safeguards are in place to protect our participants, staff and host communities.


What's It like?

If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.


We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.


Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.


Live Updates

Follow GVI Volunteer-In-Ambergris-Caye's Facebook page for live updates straight from the field. Get an idea of the types of projects you might be involved in, meet our staff and participants, experience life on this GVI base, hear about free time activities, and learn about the local culture and environment.
 
GVIBelize

Arrivals

When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.


As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals. We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile. This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.


 

COVID-19 Safety

Please note that the above images were taken pre COVID-19. All airport pick-ups and program operations now run with enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place. Learn more.

Your Impact

All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or UN SDGs. This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.


Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.


Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.


Our work in on the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize, is focused on the conservation of the

second-largest barrier reef in the world, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS), a recognised World Heritage Site. The reef is home to an abundance of coral species and many other endangered marine species such as the green sea turtle and West Indian manatee.


The reef, like many others around the world, faces many conservation challenges. Rising ocean temperatures as result of the climate crisis cause corals to become damaged in a phenomenon known as coral bleaching. Another challenge the reef shares with other marine habitats around the world is plastic pollution. Invasive species, such as lionfish, and pollution as a result of nearby farms, also pose a threat. In addition, while tourism can be an excellent contributor to the reef’s conservation, it needs to be managed effectively to ensure that no harm is caused. Mangroves are also a key factor in the protection of the reef and, among other challenges, these are under threat from unsustainable coastal development practices.


Fortunately, Belize is a leader in effective conservation practices and has implemented several innovative policies and initiatives of the years, including banning bottom trawling, a form of harmful commercial fishing, as well as offshoring oil prospecting and drilling. Our work in Belize involves supporting the country’s initiatives.


Our team carries out scientific surveys of the fish, coral and invertebrate species found at dive sites along the BBRRS. We then deliver this data to the authorities in charge of making decisions about the conservation management of the BBRRS.


The main United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) the GVI Nosy Be team contributes towards is Goal 14: Life Below Water.


Project Objectives

 


GVI Ambergris Caye Long-term Objectives:


1. Report on coral abundance and health at specific BBRRS locations to relevant conservation management organisations.


2. Report on fish abundance and health at species at specific BBRRS locations to relevant conservation management organisations.


3. Report on invertebrate abundance and health at specific BBRRS locations to relevant conservation management organisations.


Our Ethics

Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.


 


We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.


 

Our 10 Ethical Commitments

 

Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects

We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.


 

Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes

We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.


 

Impact Reporting

We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.


 

Working Against Dependency

We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.


 

Responsible Exit Strategies

For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.


 

Clear Roles & Specialized Training

We aim to ensure that ever participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.


 

Respect for all

In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.


 

Local Ownership

We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.


 

Transitioning from the Orphanage Model

We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.


 

Child and Vulnerable adult policies

We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.


Continual Development

As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.


However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.


Program Ethics

 

NO ENTERTAINMENT-BASED ACTIVITIES

We don’t support the use of wild animals for entertainment purposes. This includes riding animals, having them perform tricks, feeding or bathing them or getting close to them to take photos

NO ORPHANED ANIMAL SANCTUARIES

We don’t encourage, support or allow the rearing of “orphaned” wild baby animals kept at a “sanctuary”. The conservation value of these types of programs is negligent and would only ethically be used in extremely rare cases

GUIDELINES FOR TOUCHING OR MOVEMENT RESTRICTION

When wild animals are restricted for conservation purposes we follow the guidelines of Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

ANIMAL WELFARE GUIDELINES

We ensure that the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare are followed. These include the freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from distress, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear, pain, injury or disease.

LOCAL COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT

We ensure that conservation efforts are also always locally led, that community needs are front-and centre of any conservation effort and that our participants, projects and partners work to increase local community engagement in local conservation efforts.

NO VETERINARY PROGRAMS

We don’t offer any veterinary programs or animal rescue and rehabilitation programs. We don’t allow participants to do any work they would not be able to do in their home country.

Training

A GVI program is an investment in your career. No matter which you choose, you will be working toward improving your employability by mastering new social skills, gaining further technical expertise and earning qualifications in many cases. Most of our staff are, in fact, GVI Alumni, and we have helped many of our Alumni discover, move toward, and earn their own personal dream jobs. Each program includes introductory workshops, ongoing presentations, as well as on-the-ground professional support provided by our very own trained staff members. In addition, our training programs are critical for helping us to ensure the long-term impact of our sustainable development projects around the world.


For All GVI Participants

Orientation: Your Health, Safety and Wellbeing

 

Orientation: Travelling Responsibly and Ethically

 

Orientation: UN Sustainable Development Goals

 

Orientation: Further Opportunities for Impact

 

For All Participants at Ambergris Caye

Conservation: Survey Techniques and Logistics

 

Conservation: Biodiversity & Target Species Identification

 

Marine Conservation: Pollution and Plastics

 

Marine Conservation: Coral Reefs

 

Qualifications

Free time

Joining a program not only allows participants to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer.


Long term field staff are a great source of advice, and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. Many decide to travel before or after their experience (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program. Please note that the below suggestions are not included in the program fee, and are for the individual to organise at their own expense.


Weekend Trips

Mayan architecture

Some of the most impressive Mayan architecture can be found in Belize. This includes the Sky Palace at Caracol, which is still the tallest man-made structure in all of Belize. Other Mayan sites include Altun Ha and Lamanai.

Waterfalls

There are an abundance of waterfalls you can visit during your stay in Belize. Probably the most famous is the 1000-foot Falls located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, possibly the tallest waterfall in Central America. There are also smaller falls and pools you can swim in. These include Billy Barquedier, surrounded by a National Park of the same name

Wildlife reserves

The country is covered in protected natural areas of various descriptions. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a key location for jaguar preservation and the Bladen Nature Reserve is a highly biodiverse area of primordial rainforest.

Cave tours

Belize is not only a top diving destination but a top caving destination too. Of all Central American countries, Belize has the largest cave system and there are plenty of top caving sites across the country. The most famous is the challenging Actun Tunichil Muknal or ATM cave tour, which takes cavers to Mayan burial sites.

Islands and beaches

Many diving, snorkelling and other water-based activities will take you to some of the over 400 islands, or cayes, that form part of the Belize Barrier Reef System. But you can also go island-hopping just for the fun of it. Caye Caulker, Silk Caye and Half Moon Caye all have something to offer including beaches. Many excellent beaches can also be found on Ambergris Caye and the mainland.

Water sports

Diving and snorkelling are, of course, not the only things to do in the warm waters of the Caribbean. During your stay in Belize you can also go paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, kite surfing among other water-based activities.

Diving or snorkelling

Belize has some of the best dive spots in the world. Perhaps the most famous is the Great Blue Hole, a giant underwater sinkhole in the Lighthouse reef atoll. The Elbow on Turneffe atoll is another popular site. Many people also visit Gladden Spit to stand the chance of seeing a whale shark under certain conditions during certain seasons.

Further Travels

Peru

Further wildlife experience can be found in Latin America. Join us in Peru’s Amazonian cloud forests. Afterwards, you can visit Incan sites such as Machu Picchu. Peru is also famous for its surf spots.

Costa Rica

If you’re looking to experience a greater variety of Central American wildlife, why not travel to Costa Rica? We have a base set up in Tortuguero National Park, along the Caribbean coast. This is one of the only locations where jaguars are known to prey on sea turtles. You can also visit some of Costa Rica’s many other national parks or go surfing.

Mexico

Why not see more of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef by travelling to Mexico? Here we have another marine conservation base situated along the Caribbean coast. There are, of course, plenty of other things to do in Mexico including more Mayan architecture to see, the Frida Khalo museum to visit, and, of course, Mexico’s world-famous cuisine to sample along the way.

Cultural Immersion

Engaging intimately with a new context teaches not only global awareness but adaptability and critical thinking, skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and is also one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many activities you can get involved with in your free time, or before and after your program. On our community programs the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore diverse and eclectic topics like Theravada Buddhism in Laos or how plastic pollution and climate change affects Indian Ocean coral.


WILDLIFE

Although Belize is perhaps best known for its marine life, like many Central American locations, it also has a great abundance and diversity of wildlife. Perhaps the most iconic is the keel-billed toucan and the blue morpho butterfly. Other colourful tropical rainforest species native to Belize include the red-eyed tree frog and the scarlet macaw.

MARINE LIFE

Many travel to Belize to experience its underwater life. The country governs the Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s part of the second-largest reef system in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Here, visitors can be treated to abundant coral diversity, seahorses, dolphins and endangered species such as sea turtles and manatees.

CUISINE

Start your morning off with “fry jacks”, puffy tortilla breads often eaten for breakfast or lunch. Meat-eaters can try pibil, a Mayan pork dish served with tortillas, or ceviche made from fresh sustainable seafood. Vegetarians can rely on rice and beans as they are a staple throughout Belize, but you might also be able to find veggie options of traditional dishes such as salbutes, fried tortillas with a range of toppings. Be sure to also try plantains, okra and dukunu or tamalitos, corn bread cooked in corn husks.

MUSIC AND CRAFTS

Belizean music and crafts reflect its history, with Mayan, as well as African and European influences. One of the popular styles of music is known as “punta”. It shares commonalities with other Afro-Caribbean music and has an accompanying dance style. The island where we’re based, Ambergris Caye, is a site where Mayan ceramics have been studied.

FESTIVALS AND CELEBRATIONS

Belize is renowned for its festivals and our location on the island of Ambergris Caye is of the best in Belize to experience these celebrations first hand. In February, Carnival is celebrated in many countries around the world and Belize is no exception. In August, the highly popular international Costa De Maya Festival includes international musical guests, and in December, there is a lighted holiday boat parade to celebrate Christmas.

LANGUAGES

Belizean Creole is the most widely spoken language in Belize. It combines many other languages and you might be able to learn some while you’re there. It also has many other official national languages, including Spanish and several Mayan languages. It is also the only Central American country that has English as an official language.

Parent Info

‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.

We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.

Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’

Parent Info Pack

Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:

Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.

Support & Safety

We won’t sugarcoat it — traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.


 

COVID-19 Safety

Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures are in place throughout each GVI program. Learn more.

Support

Once a participant books, they will be assigned a personal support coordinator who will oversee their pre-departure journey. The support coordinator helps to bridge the gap between program enrolment and arrival at one of our field bases. Your personal support coordinator will ensure that you are provided with all the necessary information required to apply for visas, background checks, and any other documentation.


Safety

Upon arrival at the airport, participants will be greeted by a GVI staff member. All GVI staff are our own and all our programs around the world are run by our staff. All GVI field staff are background checked, Emergency First Response and safety trained. The minimum staff to participant ratio on GVI’s programs is one to six, although on several bases we have a ratio of one to three. When finishing the experience, participants will provide feedback on all aspects of their program.


Health & Safety Case Studies

19 Nov

HOW GVI UPHOLDS HEALTH AND SAFETY

It takes courage to book a GVI program, get on a flight, and head off to somewhere new. Volunteering offers a level of cultural immersion that typical backpacking or holidays just can’t achieve. This is why thousands of people around the world participate in paid GVI programs.


1 Nov

GVI’S COMMITMENT TO SAFETY AND SECURITY

As the saying goes: ‘Expect the best, plan for the worst’. Cliched or not, we take it to heart. This tenet is at the core of how GVI operates when it comes to promoting the health and safety of our participants, staff, and local community members at all of our 20+ bases around the world.


6 Nov

HOW GVI REMAINS PREPARED FOR NATURAL DISASTERS

The weather isn’t just a topic for polite small-talk here at GVI. We have emergency action plans in place for all scenarios. So when the weather, or other natural forces, takes a nasty turn, we are prepared to respond to stormy situations.


5 Nov

HOW GVI MANAGES PARTICIPANTS EXPECTATIONS

Once GVI has matched a participant to a program that suits their passions and goals, our team aims to set the right expectations for them. In the event that false expectations around a program are created, the GVI team takes immediate action to ensure that the situation rectified.


What's Included

  • 24-hour emergency desk
  • 24-hour in-country support
  • Access to Alumni Services and Discounts
  • Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
  • All necessary project equipment and materials
  • All necessary project training by experienced staff
  • Location orientation
  • Long term experienced staff
  • Meals while on project (except on work placements for long term internships)
  • Safe and basic accommodations (usually shared)
  • Welcome meeting

What's Not Included

  • Additional drinks and gratuities
  • COVID-19: Health and Hygiene Fee
  • Extra local excursions
  • Flights
  • International and domestic airport taxes
  • Medical and travel insurance
  • Personal items and toiletries
  • Police or background check
  • Visa costs (where necessary)